Peggy Watkins is a full-time artist whose award-winning wildlife and sporting art paintings are exhibited nationally. Her work is on display in the permanent collection of the Bennington Center for the Arts in Bennington, Vt., and can be purchased in galleries across the United States, including the Sportsman's Gallery in Atlanta, Ga., and Paderewski Fine Art in Beaver Creek, Col.
"I always drew—ever since I can remember," says Watkins, whose earliest memories are of wielding a pen or pencil at every opportunity. "I always assumed that when I was 18, I would go to art school."
But Watkins's dad wasn't convinced that funding art school was a sound career investment. "Over my dead body will you go to art school," she recalls her father saying. "My choices, if he was going to pay for college, were accounting, nursing or computers."
Watkins chose accounting, which would provide a good living for the next 20 years. Still, it wasn't the career she wanted, and during those 20 years, Watkins continued to fine-tune her artistic abilities, drawing whenever she could. She became proficient in graphite and colored pencils and accepted the occasional commission for a pet portrait.
In 2000, fate took a hand when Watkins and her husband moved to Atlanta, Ga., into a house across the street from the Atlanta College of Art. Watkins decided to enroll in an evening oil painting class, then another and another. "I was hooked," she says. "Three years after I started those classes, I went part time at work because I knew I wanted to go into painting full time."
Soon she started doing shows—some of the smaller ones at first, then the bigger ones. Awards and financial success followed, enabling Watkins to leave accounting behind and pursue her art full time.
"I've been really fortunate," says Watkins about her new career. Some would call it good fortune, but the truth is that Watkins's dedication to her dream—her perseverance and hard work—is the reason for her success.
Take, for instance, her dog paintings, which feature bold brush strokes on the canvas and intense concentration on the faces of the dogs. As a child, Watkins often accompanied her parents to art museums, where she was immediately drawn to paintings of dogs. "Dog art goes back for centuries," says Watkins. "I've always admired it."
So it was only natural that dogs would come to feature prominently in Watkins' work. Eventually, her dog paintings came to the attention of Richard Thomas, who raises and hunts dogs in Albany, Ga. After telling the artist what he appreciated about her work, "he pointed out all the things that were wrong with it," laughs Watkins. "He's a really nice man, though," she adds quickly.
That conversation would prove a turning point for Watkins as Thomas advised her she needed to experience hunting first hand if she was going to paint dogs in the field. He invited her to Albany to watch his setters in action and to learn about quail hunting.
Watkins and her husband took Thomas up on his offer, not just once, but many times. In the process, she learned how quail feed and survive, about burning, land management and, says Watkins, "that whole circle of importance of the dog and the bird together." And both she and her husband now hunt. "It's fun," she says. "I really like it."
Today, all of Watkins' work—which she describes as "impressionistic realism—is" based on what she knows first hand. That truth is reflected in her sporting art, her American wildlife scenes and her depiction of African wildlife, which she and her husband are privileged to witness on yearly trips to the bush country of Zambia.
Watkins spends hours observing her subjects and taking photographs, then returns to her studio to start the process of sketching and, finally, painting. "I like loose brushwork," she says. "I like the painting to have a sense of movement to it versus a static look. I like to see the brush strokes."
She also likes to keep in mind a single central point as she paints. Often it's the expression on an animal's face. "That's why dogs are so great to paint," Watkins insists. "Even when a dog is pointing, the intensity in its face is what's fascinating to me."
Watkins has come a long way in pursuit of her dream, and she has no plans to slow down anytime soon. "I was just thinking," she says, "I've got to start planning my show for Charleston."
It's the kind of single-minded focus that has enabled Watkins to realize her childhood dream.